This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Wednesday, Sep. 3, 2008 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20080903.php.
Stylish California Chardonnay
Let's stick with the new month's Wine Focus theme for another day as we examine a stylish California Chardonnay that uses - but does not abuse - a kiss of oak and malolactic fermentation.
As we begin to examine the "spectrum of oak" in Chardonnay this month, today we move from Monday's "Inox" Chard, made entirely without oak by Oregon's Chehalem Winery, to a personal California favorite in the middle $20s price range, Sonoma-Cutrer's Sonoma Coast bottling.
This wine - almost ubiquitous in my home town, Louisville, because the winery is in the portfolio of local drinks conglomerate Brown-Forman - makes good use of oak during fermentation, adding subtle flavors that don't whack the consumer in the palate with a wooden plank.
The wine does undergo 100 percent malolactic fermentation, the wine-making process that converts the wine's naturally occurring malic acid, with its tartly acidic green-apple flavors, to lactic acid, the acid found in milk, which tones down the acidity to a softer level. Happily, Sonoma-Cutrer gets it right, producing a wine with good body that retains plenty of food-friendly acidity.
The wine turns out nicely balanced, showing some luscious tropical-fruit flavors along with the traditionally Chardonnay apple, with a good structure and body and a slightly high but acceptable 14.2 percent alcohol. You'll find today's tasting report below.
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Sonoma-Cutrer 2005 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($25.99)
Very clear straw color. Apples, pineapple and dates, "tropical fruit" character is present but held well in hand. Mouth-filling, fresh fruit is well balanced by tart, mouth-watering acidity that builds a sturdy structure. Alcohol (14.2% claimed in the tiniest type I have ever seen) adds a hint of texture and warmth. Still, it's a nicely balanced and appealing estate-bottled Chardonnay from a maker that has consistently readjusted my instinctively somewhat negative attitude toward many fatter, softer California Chardonnays. (Sept. 2, 2008)
FOOD MATCH: Balanced Chardonnay marries well with pork, poultry or fish; it served well enough with a more unconventional match, a light and cooling late-summer dinner of Caprese, heirloom tomato caprese with fresh garden tomatoes and basil with fresh local cow's milk mozzarella, and a fresh spinach salad with hard-boiled eggs and warm bacon dressing.
VALUE: This is a popular restaurant wine locally; its middle $20s retail price at a wine shop here was $2 above the winery price, moving it toward upscale territory; but I prefer its style to some more pricey and sought-after California "buttery blockbusters."
WHEN TO DRINK: Ready to enjoy, although I see no reason a balanced Chardonnay of this quality wouldn't gain richness over at least a few years in the cellar.
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